This post has nothing to do with Richard III, but concerns a great structure which, if it ever existed, would surely have been visible to him from the shore of South Wales. The intervening centuries have worn it down, of course, but he might—just might—have seen it.
We are becoming accustomed to important ancient discoveries along the Welsh coast of the Severn estuary. For instance, there were those Stone Age footprints, set forever in the hardened clay along the shore at Goldcliff, and the wonderful medieval ship discovered in the Usk at Newport. These are but two.
And now I have learned of a ‘huge’ stone port built by ancient British kings over a mile offshore at Cardiff. A what and how far out, did I hear you exclaim? Well, yes, that was my initial reaction, and it’s a fascinating thought, but could it possibly be true? You may relax, ladies and gentlemen, for I am not about to claim that it must have been the work of alien visitors; instead, I will resort to maps—Google, Bing, Earth, Ordnance Survey and others. One thing is certain, I am astonished that Giraldus Cambrensis forgot to mention it, and Nennius was most remiss not to list such a colossal undertaking among his Wonders of Britain!
The Severn Estuary is a dangerous place because it boasts the second highest tidal range in the world, the highest being the Bay of Fundy in Newfoundland. Things have changed since the Dark Ages, and now it is reckoned that the high water level of, say, the 5th century, would have been four metres lower than at present. I am not a geologist, historical or otherwise, so can only imagine that this might make a great difference to the appearance and integrity of the shoreline. My interest here is in the area off Cardiff, known today as the Cardiff Flats. As far as I can see, Cardiff never extended further south than the original shoreline, which surely means there was always mud on what is now Cardiff Flats? And that the highest spring tides still came up to the shoreline that Cardiff never dared to cross?
From the shore, the Flats reach out south for about a mile into the estuary, a vista of level, featureless, sometimes rippling mud that ends suddenly at the Orchard Ledges, which plunge down into much deeper water. At this physical point, in the time of the ancient British kings, it is suggested, there was built a great stone port. Its purpose was to defeat the tide, by always providing deep water for ships of all sizes. Especially, of course, military vessels.
Yes, the above image is how London is imagined to have looked at the time of the Cardiff port. But, of course, London has always been right on the confined bank of the Thames. The port off Cardiff is not only a mile or more out in the estuary, but was built of stone! It is an undertaking that even now would take meticulous and infallible engineering…and an awful lot of money and men! How long did it take? How great a workforce? Might the whole enterprise have been on a par with the Great Pyramid?
I learned of this harbour/port when reading The Holy Kingdom by Adrian Gilbert, Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett. This is a fascinating book dealing with the legends of King Arthur (among other things, including that there were actually two Arthurs), and I really enjoyed reading it. That is not to say I necessarily agree with all its theories and suppositions, but I definitely enjoyed it. The writing style is easy and inviting, and there aren’t any dull passages. According to the blurb – “As a result of research going back over forty years, the authors are able to reveal the locations of the graves of both Arthurs, the location of Camelot, the burial of the ‘true cross of Christ’ and uncover a secret historical current that links our own times with the mysteries of Arthur and the Holy Grail…” Yes, yes, I know that many of you will be groaning, but the book is still very interesting, if not to say fascinating.
Sometimes, whatever you’re reading, a passage will leap out and demand investigation. Then it stays in the memory, nagging away, until you do just that. The passage in question is the following, which I have taken directly from the book:
“….In the Cardiff area, which is typified by mud flats, the variation of the [Severn] tides means that the sea retreats for a very long way at low tide, leaving ships beached and therefore useless for military purposes.
“….Before land was reclaimed in order to build the Alexandra and Roath docks, the shoreline between the Taff and Ely estuaries was long and straight, corresponding to today’s high-water mark for spring tides. Beyond this high-water mark there is a low, flat shelf of mudflats extending for well over a mile to the Orchard ledges, where the shelf ends and the water deepens sharply. When the tide is out the mudflats are exposed. It was on the edge of these flats that we believe the ancient British kings built a great stone port in the sea, to overcome the problems created by the tides. Until recently there was a long, straight road running down through Splott in south-east Cardiff, called Portmanmor Road, a name deriving from either Porth-Maen-Mor, meaning ‘the Port of Stone in the Sea’, or Porth-Maen-Mawr—‘the Great Port of Stone’. It points directly at the centre of the harbour whose ruins, although not marked on modern Ordnance Survey maps, were included in those drawn up by local cartographers in the nineteenth centuries.
The above illustration has been inserted by me, and does not appear in the book. The resolution is not very good in the snip from the 1888-1913 Ordnance Survey map, but it shows that Portmanmor (various other spellings) Road acquired a kink at the southern end, and has these days been swallowed up by the docks and other developments. But the red dot-dash line follows the upper part of the road, and then reaches out into the estuary to the end of Cardiff Flats and the Orchard Ledges, where there is no visible sign of the stone port. It was from about this time that the port was omitted from all modern OS maps. And I don’t think that the above passage from The Holy Kingdom implies that Portmanmor Road extended right into the estuary, I have included the red line merely to show that the angle of the road would indeed reach out to the right point on Orchard Ledges.
“….The harbour is shaped like a gigantic horseshoe with its mouth facing outwards towards the deeper water of the Severn Estuary. The bulk of the harbour sits on the mudflats with its entrance stretching over the shelf. The distance across its opening is approximately 400 yards, and it is 500 yards deep (i.e. from mouth back toward land). Using this manmade harbour, ships could come and go as they pleased, regardless of the tides. It was certainly a remarkable structure and deserves to be explored archaeologically, for if there is anywhere in Britain where we could expect to find Dark Age wrecks, then this is it….”
I am unsure if what I have indicated with red arrows in the maps below is the harbour, shingle, or just the way the mud has settled as the tide ebbs. All I can say is that sometimes it looks as if made of stone, and sometimes not.
Well, after all that, I’m left with a huge unanswered question. Is there an ancient port still lingering for our modern eyes? Or not?
Severn estuary mud is another Wonder of Britain overlooked by Nennius. The Romans’ amazing concrete/cement (of which we hear many praises) is as nothing compared with what Sabrina can produce.
That Severn clay stuff is a curse on anyone whose garden is made of it (me, for one!) because it seems that no matter how much rain falls, the flower beds will have set solid within a day. But this is not so in the Severn itself. The retreating tide may expose miles of that awful grey-brown desolation, but there is no time between tides for anything to set. The stuff remains sticky, gooey, treacherous, mean-hearted and seemingly fathomless. Its sole avowed purpose is to grab your wellies and suck you down. Oh, and there are quick-sands too, just to make matters really jolly.
We still don’t even know how Stonehenge was created—Merlin’s name has been known to pass lips, and it surely would have taken his wizardry to conjure a 400 x 500 yard stone port, in the middle of the Severn Estuary, in that ferocious mud in the Dark Ages. Well, I’m not going to say it couldn’t have been done by mere mortals, but I confess I would really like to know how they did it.
And, of course, there’s always….
PS: Oh dear, it now seems that the Great Stone Port will soon be even more a thing of the past, because it looks to me as if the wall of the intended Cardiff Bay Tidal Lagoon will probably demolish what’s left of what might be a Dark Ages marvel.
Here is a link to an interesting map and article on the murder hotspots of medieval London. Click on a dot and details pop up of that particular murder.
Most of the culprits either just simply disappeared pronto or skedaddled into sanctuary and frustratingly the outcomes are not shown. The vast majority of the victims were male, sadly one a small child, John de Burgh, aged 5 years old who died after being ‘cuffed’ after he stole a small amount of wool which he had hidden under his hat. One of the more audacious was the murder of the gatekeeper of Newgate Gaol, Nicholas at Mill, who was stabbed to death by two men who broke into Newgate to do so.
Its seems you were quite vulnerable if you were a clerk in holy orders, several of them being bumped off. Although priests seemed to be susceptible to ending up as murder victims they could actually give as good as they got with one priest, Alan de Hacford murdering Walter de Anne, the man he shared his lover, Alice de York with, after finding Walter and Alice sitting together. For reasons unknown Alice aided and abetted Alan, the pair of them fleeing afterwards.
Loud music then as now could lead to altercations with fatal results. In May 1324, Thomas Somer, a minstrel. incensed Thomas of Lynn, by playing outside his home after dusk. The householder Thomas chased Somer intending to bash him with a door-bar. After Thomas caught Somer and struck him, the musician pulled out a knife and fatally injured Thomas.
In this picture its the turn of musician to get it…
A few of the culprits were female including a fishmonger stabbed to death by his mistress. Surprisingly she didn’t batter him to death with a piece of cod!… joking.. .. while another woman, a prostitute by the name of Agnes ‘Houdy Doudy’ killed another woman, Lucy, the pregnant wife of Richard de Barstaple, by ‘striking her on the belly with fists and knees’. Yet another woman, a beggar known as Nicola from Cardiff, drowned her 3 month old baby, Alice, while ‘surreptitiously pretending to wash the child’ in a ditch.
Reasons for people getting murdered varied quite a bit from a suicidal man, John Pentyn, bashing his would be rescuer over the head with an iron stave to Roger Styward, who as a result of throwing eel skins in the street, received a fatal kicking. Servants died protecting their masters belongings. A violent altercation about a horse led to a murder while a planned gang rape ended in complete and utter mayhem.
Royalty was not exempt from the fallout of murder – John Gremet a groom of the kitchen of Queen Philippa – was murdered by another royal servant, Peter Tremenel.
A total of 142 murders are detailed sourced from the Coroners’ Rolls and credit and thanks to Prof Eisner at the Institute of Criminonology, University of Cambridge. Enjoy!
There was once a royal house, sometimes referred to as a palace, in the street named The Riole in London’s Vintry Ward, and Richard III granted it to his good friend and ally, John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk. The great house was called the Tower Royal, and, like so much of medieval London, it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.
The name Tower Royal was new to me, so I began to investigate. As a matter of interest, there is still an area in the city of London called Tower Royal (EC4N), to which, I am informed, the nearest station is Cannon Street.
This map source has the following to say (and good luck if you’re not dizzy after trying to picture it all!):-
“On the South ſide of this ſtreete from Budge Row, lieth a lane turning downe by the weſt gate of the Tower Royall, and to the ſouth ende of the ſtone Wall beyond the ſaid gate, is of this ward, and is accounted a part of the Royall ſtreete, agaynſt this weſt gate of the Tower Royall, is one other lane, that runneth weſt to Cordwainer ſtreete, and this is called Turnebaſe lane: on the ſouthſide whereof is a peece of Wringwren lane, to the Northweſt corner of Saint Thomas Church the Apoſtle.”
Got it? Well, it is clear enough as far as the second comma. Tower Royal is indeed south, just down Royall Street from Budge Row, on the left, behind a high stone wall. You can see the location clearly on the top illustration on this page, shown by the suitably royal-blue arrow.
As far as the nearby churches, in the medieval period, are concerned, see the illustration below. Number 84 in the illustration below is St Michael Paternoster Royal, and number 63 is St Martin Vintry, which is at the southern end of The Riole. This street appears under a variety of names, including Whyttyngton Colleage, as in the illustration at the beginning of this article, which is taken from The A to Z of Elizabethan London, published by the London Topographical Society.
According to The London Encyclopaedia, edited by Weinreb and Hibbert, The Tower Royal:-
“…[was] first heard of in the 13th century, [and] was named after the wine merchants from Le Riole, near Bordeaux, who lived in the area. In 1320 it came into the possession of Edward III, who granted it in 1331 to Queen Philippa, who enlarged it and established her wardrobe here. On her death, the King gave it to the Dean and Canons of Westminster. But in 1371 Joan, Princess of Wales, mother of the future Richard II, was living there. In 1381 her son rode here to tell her of the suppression of the Peasants’ Revolt. By 1598 it was, according to Stow, neglected and used for stabling the King’s horses. It was burned down in the Great Fire…”
So, no mention of Richard III or John Howard. But then, there’s a long span between 1381 and 1598!
And then I found the following in John Strype’s Survey of London :-
“At the upper end of this Street [The Riole], is the Tower Royal, whereof that street taketh name. This Tower and great place was so called, of pertaining to the Kings of this Realm: but by whom the same was builded, or of what Antiquity continued, I have not read more, than in the Reign of King Edward I. second, fourth, and seventh years, it was the tenement of Simon Beawmes. Also, that in the 36th of Edward III. the same was called the Royal, in the Parish of Michael de Pater noster: and that in the three and fortieth of his Reign, he gave it by the name of his Inne, called the Royal, in his City of London, in value twenty pounds by year, unto his Colledge of S. Stephen at Westminster. Notwithstanding, in the Reign of Richard II. it was called, The Queens Wardrobe, as appeareth by this that followeth.
“King Richard, having in Smithfield overcome and dispersed the Rebels, he, his Lords and all his Company, entred the City of London, with great joy, and went to the Lady Princess his Mother, who was then lodged in the Tower-Royal, called the Queens Wardrope, where she had remained three days and two nights, right sore abashed. But when she saw the King her Son, she was greatly rejoyced and said, Ah Son, what great sorrow have I suffered for you this day! The King answered and said; Certainly, Madam, I know it well, but now rejoyce, and thank God, for I have this day recovered mine heritage, and the Realm of England, which I had near-hand lost.
“This Tower seemeth to have been (at that time) of good defence, for when the Rebels had beset the Tower of London, and got possession thereof, taking from thence whom they listed: as in my Annals I have shewed; the Princess being forced to flye came to this Tower Royal, where she was lodged, and remained safe as ye have heard. And it may be also supposed, that the King himself was at that time lodged there. I read, that in the year 1386. Lyon King of Armony, being chased out of his Realm by the Tartarians, received innumerable gifts of the King and of his Nobles, the King then lying in the Royal. Where he also granted to the said King of Armony, a Charter of a thousand pounds by year during his Life. This for proof may suffice, that Kings of England have been lodged in this Tower, though the same (of later time) hath been neglected, and turned into stabling for the Kings horses, and now let out to divers Men, and divided into Tenemens.
“This great House, belonging antiently to the Kings of England, was inhabited by the first Duke of Norfolk, of the Family of the Howards; granted unto him by King Richard the Third. For so I find in an old Ledger Book of that Kings. Where it is said, “That the King granted unto John Duke of Norfolk, Messuagium cum Pertinenciis, voc. LE TOWER infra Paroch. Sancti Thomæ Lond.” where we may observe, how this Messuage is said to stand in S. Thomas Apostle tho’ Stow placeth it in S. Michaels.”
The Gatehouse Gazeteer has more to say:- http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/English%20sites/4620.html
“Royal Tower, dating from before Edward I (possibly from Henry I), used, at times as the Queens Wardrobe, as guest lodgings and sometime let out as a lodging. Was near to St Michael Paternoster.
“Tower Royall was of old time the kings house, king Stephen was there lodged, but sithence called the Queenes Wardrobe: the Princesse, mother to king Richard the 2. in the 4. of his raigne was lodged there, being forced to flie from the tower of London, when the Rebels possessed it: But on the 15. of June (saith Frosard) Wat Tylar being slaine, the king went to this Ladie Princesse his mother, then lodged in the Tower Royall, called the Queenes Wardrobe, where she had tarried 2. daies and 2. nights: which Tower (saith the Record of Edward the 3. the 36. yeare) was in the Parish of S. Michael de Pater noster, &c. In the yere 1386, king Richard with Queene Anne his wife, kept their Christmasse at Eltham, whither came to him Lion king of Ermony, vnder pretence to reforme peace, betwixt the kinges of England and France, but what his comming profited he only vnderstood: for besides innumerable giftes that he receyued of the King, and of the Nobles, the king lying then in this (Tower) Royall at the Queenes Wardrobe in London, graunted to him a Charter of a thousand poundes by yeare during his life. He was, as hee affirmed, chased out of his kingdome by the Tartarians. (Stow p. 44-)
“At the vpper end of this streete, is the Tower Royall, whereof that streete taketh name: this Tower and great place was so called, of pertayning to the kinges of this Realme, but by whome the same was first builded, or of what antiquity continued, I haue not read, more then that in the raigne of Edward the first, the second, fourth and seuenth yeares, it was the tenement of Symon Beawmes, also that in the 36 of Edward the 3. the same was called the Royall, in the parrish of S. Michael de pater noster, & that in the 43. of his raigne, hee gaue it by the name of his Inne, called the Royall in the cittie of London, in value xx.l. by yeare, vnto his Colledge of S. Stephen at Westminster: notwithstanding in the raigne of Richard the second it was called the Queenes Wardrope, as appeareth by this that followeth, king Richarde hauing in Smithfield ouercome and dispersed his Rebels, hee, his Lordes and all his Company, entered the Citty of London, with great ioy, and went to the Lady Princes his mother, who was then lodged in the Tower Royall, called the Queenes Wardrope, where shee had remayned three dayes and two nightes, right sore abashed, but when shee saw the king her sonne, she was greatelie reioyced and saide. Ah sonne, what great sorrow haue I suffered for you this day. The king aunswered and saide, certainely Madam I know it well, but now reioyce, and thanke God, for I haue this day recouered mine heritage, and the Realme of England, which I had neare hand lost.
“Frosarde.; King Richard lodged in the Tower Royall.
“This Tower seemeth to haue beene at that time of good defence, for when the Rebels had beset the Tower of London, and got possession thereof, taking from thence whome they listed, as in mine Annales I haue shewed, the princesse being forced to flye came to this Tower Royall, where shee was lodged and remayned safe as yee haue heard, and it may bee also supposed that the king himselfe was at that time lodged there. I read that in the yeare 1386. Lyon king of Armonie, being chased out of his Realme by the Tartarians, receyued innumerable giftes of the King and of his Nobles, the king then lying in the Royall, where hee also granted to the saide king of Armonie, a Charter of a thousand poundes by yeare during his life. This for proofe may suffice, that kinges of England haue beene lodged in this Tower, though the same of later time haue been neglected and turned into stabling for the kinges horses, and now letten out to diuers men, and diuided into Tenements. (Stow p. 238-)
“This great House, belonging antiently to the Kings of England, was inhabited by the first Duke of Norfolk, of the Family of the Howards; granted unto him by King Richard the Third. For so I find in an old Ledger Book of that Kings. Where it is said, “That the King granted unto John Duke of Norfolk, Messuagium cum Pertinenciis, voc. LE TOWER infra Paroch. Sancti Thomæ Lond.” where we may observe, how this Messuage is said to stand in S. Thomas Apostle tho’ Stow placeth it in S. Michaels. (Stype Bk3 p. 6)”
That, I am afraid, is about all I have been able to find about this long-lost once-royal residence. There are no illustrations, except for the old maps. Unless someone out there knows otherwise…?
As a writer of historical novels (I’ve produced a lot!) it is always of immense interest to know exactly what a certain place might have looked like in the time my novel is set. Having written many that were set in Regency Bath, I would have been very thankful indeed to find this site. Alas, my days of Regency-writing were mostly before the advent of the Internet. These days I write about the medieval period.
For an author, the link takes you to an example of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I doubt if there could be a better record of the Abbey Green area of Bath. The site is packed with illustrations, from the earliest times to the present, and the owner has assembled a truly comprehensive collection of documents and information. I could have my characters moving around in exactly what was there during my chosen year. And if, as now, I were writing a book set in the 14th century, I can do the same, and know that I’m correct.
The above link is only for one section of the site. If you go to the home page you’ll find more about Bath. Excellent, and very definitely recommended for anyone with an even vague interest in the spa city.
I have just learned of another site that allows one to see a local area in maps past and present. Interesting, and worth bookmarking. Only West of England at the moment, as far as I can see. Let’s hope the rest of the country is eventually given the same coverage.
The illustration shows the part of Gloucester around the cathedral, then and now.
Harwich Town station is the end of the line, a twenty-five minute ride from Manningtree and the north-eastern extremity of Essex. As you cross the main road from the station car park, turning left takes you past a series of old buildings with Harwich Society plaques amid a modern setting. Some of these commemorate people such as Pepys, Christopher Newport the Jamestown settler and Christopher Jones, of Mayflower fame but the first of these is the site of the inn known as The Three Cups (left). Eventually, you will reach the Ha’penny Pier, from which the busy Port of Felixstowe is visible. Indeed, a passenger ferry across the rivers operates on most summer days.
Harwich is situated on the south bank of the confluence of the rivers Stour and Orwell. Between them lies the Shotley peninsula, which also features the village of Holbrook. Warner (Edward II, The Unconventional King, p.216) reports that Queen Isabella, Roger Mortimer, Edmund Earl of Kent and his steward John Cromwell, with a thousand or more other men, landed at “Orwell in Suffolk” on 24 September 1326. However, I have never heard of an actual settlement by this name.
Contemporary chroniclers are irritatingly vague about this location and it would be difficult to satisfy the conditions precisely because Harwich is in the wrong county. This map (right) illustrates the situation – that only the north bank of the Orwell from Felixstowe to Ipswich, or the northern half of the Shotley Peninsula, fit these criteria.
The Harwich Society cannot now locate their source.
How often do we Google for old town maps, only to find they’re so low in pixels that actually making out details is impossible? Well, while searching for such a map of Coventry, I have found an excellent site that gives a zoomable version of Speed‘s map of 1610. It goes in so close that the only flaws are those in the original map!